King County Equity Now and Decriminalize Seattle announce today the creation of a participatory budgeting process for the 2021 budget cycle. Participatory budgeting is a democratic process in which community members decide how to spend part of a public budget. The participatory budgeting process coordinated by our two coalitions will inform and help guide Seattle’s spending on the City’s “public safety” agencies, with a focus on the Seattle Police Department, Law Department (City Prosecutors), and Municipal Court, and on the community reinvestments that could generate real safety. This announcement comes on the heels of Mayor Durkan offering a mere 5% cut in the Seattle Police Department’s budget during a time of severe budget shortfalls.
The nation-wide uprising of the last few weeks in defense of Black lives has focused unprecedented public attention on the destructive role of policing and bloated police budgets. In Seattle, Decriminalize Seattle and King County Equity Now have been spearheading the call to defund SPD by at least 50%, and calling for reinvestments into real community safety and well-being. Hundreds of community groups and tens of thousands of community members have signed on to these demands. The overwhelming support for defunding SPD makes it clear that people are tired of seeing essential needs like housing, health care, and child care unmet in their communities while hundreds of millions are spent on policing. The community-led participatory budgeting process announced today will help transform community demands into reality.
The City government has proven unable, despite years of protest, to reduce the police budget meaningfully and an independent community-led process is needed. In order to truly reflect community needs around public safety, the design and implementation of the process to reduce the police budget must be held by community organizations, not under the Mayor’s control. The coalitions organizing the participatory budgeting process seek support and consultation with the City, but plan to maintain the process’s independence so that it can truly focus on community consensus for spending.
More is spent on policing in Seattle than on the bottom 25 departments in the City budget combined, including city money dedicated to housing; education; city planning and community development; labor standards; economic development; arts and culture; sustainability and the environment; civil rights, immigrant and refugee affairs; concerns/complaints of employee harassment, discrimination, and retaliation; police accountability; and elections. Community-led participatory budgeting will directly challenge this state of affairs.
The defense of Black lives requires meaningful action from City officials. While every resident in Seattle has an investment in the budget, the community members most impacted by the legacy of over-investment in policing and disinvestment in their well-being must be centered in shaping the new vision for the city’s public safety dollars. We invite City officials to endorse and support this community-controlled and community-designed process.
For updates on the participatory budgeting process, including opportunities for engagement, click here. Many cities around the US and around the world have used participatory budgeting to give residents the power to make decisions in how their cities spend revenues. King County Equity Now and Decriminalize Seattle are being advised by the Participatory Budgeting Project, the leading North American organization on participatory budgeting, whose work you can see at participatorybudgeting.org.
King County Equity Now (“KCEN”) is a coalition of accountable, Black-led, community-based organizations fighting to achieve equity across meaningful metrics—e.g., land ownership, wealth, mortality rates, etc.
Decriminalize Seattle is a grassroots coalition building power in Seattle to invest in pro-community initiatives and divest from policing and the criminal legal system.